by Jürgen Fauth
The ghost of Costa-Gavras hovers over John Malkovich's directorial debut "The Dancer Upstairs." In an oppressed, unspecified South American country, a mysterious terrorist who goes by the name of "Ezequiel" is hanging dogs from lampposts and bombing night clubs. Javier Bardem plays the honorable police detective Agustin Rejas on Ezequiel's trail.
Rejas is a former lawyer who gave up his job to help his country more directly--to the dismay of his bourgeois wife, who is more interested in her nail polish and book club than the suffering of the working classes. It is no surprise when Rejas falls for his daughter's passionate dance teacher Yolanda (Laura Morante).
Based on Nicholas Shakespeare's novel, which covers the real events surrounding Peru's "Shining Path" revolution, Malkovich's film is set in an unnamed country ripe with government abuses, but the revolutionaries are equally corrupt. Ultimately, Malkovich is little interested in concrete political issues. His concern is with the love story and Rejas' search for a soul, for a place within his repressive, beleaguered world.
The locations are beautiful, and Malkovich's direction is able and engaging
throughout. Sure, the film falls short of the gold standard set by Costa-Gavras,
whose 1973 "State of Siege" features prominently within the
film. Still, "The Dancer Upstairs" is a political thriller that
touches, a romance that thrills, and a debut that convinces.
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